In these halcyon days of directors of football, sporting directors, business managers and tiered levels of management, it’s easy to forget this is a path previously trodden by Norwich City FC.
The summer of 1998 and the sight of two men, hands clasped in unison heralding in a new era at NR1 was one that adorned the front pages of the EDP on that balmiest of summers.
Bryan Hamilton – a remit to focus on… (did anyone actually discover what he was supposed to be doing?)
Bruce Rioch – to coach and take care of the squad on match days.
Two voices – one direction? Don’t bet on it.
Sounds simple? Well, it should have been. Rioch arrived with an excellent pedigree. Fresh from coaching Arsenal and having signed such luminaries as Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt, he was known as a tough-talking ‘sergeant major’ style manager, chiselled from the highlands of Scotland via a lengthy spell at Bolton.
Surely the perfect fit to sort out the ‘Costa Del Colney’ lackadaisical attitude that had seemed to engulf the training pitches at the time.
Hamilton was sitting just above to provide the softer approach ‘good cop/bad cop’ if you will. The perfect man to scour the transfer market, mediate between board and players and put the club back on course for a swift promotion.
Only it never really gelled. From the snippets I’ve gleaned over the years, the players never took to Rioch’s disciplinarian methodology and I gather there was a fair bit of moaning to Hamilton about it. Was Hamilton Delia’s preferred choice for manager in the first place? Given the way events unfolded, I would hazard a guess at yes.
The more I see of Stuart Webber the more I am impressed by him. He has set out a clear structure of exactly who is responsible for what, something I don’t feel Hamilton and Rioch ever managed to achieve. A quick glance at matches in that season, shows both men shouting instructions to players on the pitch.
Let the coach, coach…
Shades of Roy Evans and Gerrard Houllier perhaps?
But what a start to the season. Three wins in a row and only one loss in the first six. And a glorious front pairing of Welsh wizardry in Iwan Roberts and Craig Bellamy. We speak in such high regard of our current crop of youth players, but this was a squad that comprised of Bellamy, Darren Kenton, Darren Eadie, Darel Russell, Andy and Lee Marshall and Keith O’Neill.
In today’s financial landscape – we would be adding many zeros to the fees that they eventually fetched.
What a tantalising triumvirate of Eadie, O’Neill and Bellamy.
And there were experienced heads too. Roberts, Matt Jackson, Peter Grant, Neil Adams and Malky Mackay to settle the squad down. Astute signings over the season in Cedric Anselin, Paul Dalglish and Phil Mulryne, the ‘recipe’ for success was all there. It was a season, that on the face of it, looked well set to propel us back into the land of milk and honey.
Only the season never really seemed to click. Each time we threatened to go on a run, we were pegged back by a series of losses. A run of no wins between late December and late February meant the playoffs were never really in danger.
In fact, we didn’t win a home game from the 19th December until May 1st. This was also the season of our most infamous of pantomime villains. Step forward, Mr Kevin Muscat and one season-ending injury to Craig Bellamy.
So was it the coaching, off-field incidents, Kevin Muscat or simply a case of the continental director of football experiment failing? We will never know. But one thing’s for certain, this was a squad of players that seriously under-achieved.
I am far happier with the direction that Webber is taking us in. Clearly defined roles, a team spirit at the upper levels and everyone striving to move the club in the right direction. Results will come and if they don’t, we are well set up to keep the club moving forward.
I’ll finish with the end of another unwanted experiment from that season – that of thousands of fans holding aloft their green cards, waving a welcome goodbye to ‘those’ yellow shorts.
PS. Did anyone else love that navy and fluorescent away kit as much as me? (Yes! – Ed).